"Annalicia," Kraine patiently addressed his wife from within the Cruxis Crystal on his hand.
Annalicia heard his voice in her head as though it were her own thoughts. All through bearing the sickness of the Ozette flu, she had been hearing him as well. The problem was that with her mind scattered as it had been, they hadn't exactly had a great chance to communicate as of recently. She longed for a chance to talk to her beloved properly about life, their son, and most importantly just how long their dual-soul predicament may stay smelling like a rose.
Alas' she was stuck in the thick of battle, using Kraine's worn out body as her own. It still felt clunky and the strange feeling of slight detachment from her mind to her body remained, but she was as used to it as she expected to get. Watching her assailants as they all began to converge closer to her location, she kicked one that got a little too close out of the way and ducked under the mob as they dove for her. "Certainly not the sharpest knives in the block, are you?" she chastised under her breath in marvel of her work when they continued to fight amongst themselves.
In the brief respite from the fight, she stole a glance back down at her hand and at the uncrested Cruxis crystal that sat atop it. Even though she could see nothing but the usual red glow of the gem, she knew he was watching everything. It was such a helpless feeling, being trapped in the exsphere like that. It had been a true hell and a fate that she would have rather been removed from back then. Seeing her beloved angel once again and having the chance to hold Lloyd as close as she had when she had been half delirious (she couldn't remember much) had changed things a lot though.
Hearing the flap of wings behind her, she whirled around to find that some of the smarter angels had decided to take a dishonourable approach in taking her out. Though it took some energy to move Kraine's body, she dodged to the left and then to the right as he stabbed at her with a rapier. Going in for the strongest uppercut she could manage to muster and hoping some the power of the exspheres on both of Kraine's hands would serve her some use in the fight, she dove under the angels attempt on her throat and connected with his ribs. Grinning and drawing her other arm behind her as he started to fly back from the assault, she thrust the weaker arm in to hopefully make a second impact.
Instead of connecting the second time with the fragile ribs of the lifeless being Cruxis called an 'angel' though, she found something incredibly hard slamming into her from her left side. Coughing to try and breathe normally and recover, she lost her balance and fell on her side to the ground. Squinting one eye open through the pain, she saw another smaller angel looking over her from behind a tall black and gold tower shield.
"Damn," she thought, trying her best to overcome the dizziness she was feeling from being winded. She knew she would have been feeling much worse if it weren't for Kraine's body, but it was both a blessing and curse. He still felt pain, but at a slower and more drawn out rate than most other beings. She knew she (or Kraine) would be feeling the fight much later, but in the meantime she just had to keep going. Cries of anguished angel language she didn't understand filled her ears from behind while she attempted to lift herself up, knowing she would be done for if she didn't. The matter became even more urgent upon a brief glance at shadows reflected on the glossy white floor below her. The other seraphinalia had realised they'd been tricked and were royally upset with her by the sounds of it.
"Annalicia," Kraine asserted in what she had learned to be his equivalent of a panicked yell. "Do not get distracted. Allow me to come forward."
"No way. You would have killed yourself if you'd kept using your magic like you were. You never did learn your limits."
"Magic does not come as naturally to me as you might think," he informed.
"I know, I know. Because you used to be a human. I remember." Her afterthought was that apparently she too had also been human. The Desians had made a point of that. The information could have only come from one person, but somehow certain Desians had learned what certain important people had been before they changed as a result of Origins Curse. Kraine had not told her too much, saying that it was a matter difficult to comprehend, but she had whittled most of it out of him over the course of their few brief years as a family.
Still unable to stand, she managed a roll out of the way as the shadows of her assailants from behind became more pronounced. There was no way they would fall for the same trick twice though- or at least she didn't want to test it. A surprisingly quick amount of pain flared up in her ribs as she rolled. "Not a good sign. I'm in trouble."
In an odd way, just conceding to the idea of defeat spiked something in her. Something she had seen in her son as well. She hadn't wanted to give up when the Angelus Project had absorbed her and turned her into a monster that stormy night and that hadn't changed. She wanted to live. "I have been given a second chance," she bellowed at the hostiles as she forced herself to stand and examine her surroundings, "and I don't intend to waste it!"
The angel that she'd winded and the angel with the tower shield were the first to zip for her again. At realising the physical limits of Kraine's body and seeing several cuts in his armour, she prepared a spell she had learned from her sister. Gesea had always been much more gifted than she but the cantrips she had managed to grasp still usually did the trick. She pointed at her target. "Lightning!"
The sensation of mana leaving her body felt uncomfortable to say the least. Even as a bolt of lightning flew from above to the angels and disintegrated the majority of their flight feathers so that they would have to come at her the old fashioned way, she decided that she couldn't bear the feeling. Memories of the night she had forced the one she loved to kill her as a result of her mana being absorbed by the Angelus Project flooding back just after using a simple spell were far too distracting. The problem of course at making that decision was that she lacked the strength and skill to wield Kraine's sword and so even though Kraine had trained her so that she could hit the weak points of her enemies fairly easily, they would eventually get up again and come back for several more attempts on her life before she managed to end theirs. She had been trained to hit and run, specifically with Lloyd in tow, if Desians ever found her while Kraine was absent.
"Annalicia," Kraine called her again. She could practically hear him tapping his foot.
She smiled. "You were always this protective. Lloyd takes after you."
"Hmph," her beloved muttered in his stock response. Even though she couldn't see him, she picture him standing and crossing his arms disapprovingly. "That is precisely what I hope not to be true."
"You are always being far too hard on yourself Regal," she responded as she thought of the right emotion to snap out her wings the way Yuan had taught her. That sensation she could deal with at angels she had damaged plus a bunch more which had been behind her at one point charged at her. She hooked the one that reached her first in the face and sent it flying back into some of its comrades. She zipped backward until she hit the rear wall of the room to buy some time. There was nowhere else to run. She would be surrounded any second. A strange weightless feeling overcame her unexpectedly and she realised only too late what was happening when the red of the Cruxis crystal surrounded her. She looked out of the 'window' to watch the scene unfold and as more angels replaced the ones Kraine quickly downed upon his entrance to the world once more. She knew she must have triggered something for him to have been able to overpower her presence in his body. It could have only been one thing. She smiled fondly through her concern. "Please be careful my beloved Angel."
The thought that by getting the Summon Spirits, she would somehow be able to assist Lloyd wherever he was at the moment helped to put Colette's mind at rest at least slightly as she and her comrades traversed the skies of Sylvarant on the rheairds. Martuan was an angel of Cruxis, but she wasn't a bad person. That was why when the slight opportunity of what they could do inevitably came into her mind as they flew over Hakonesia Peak and she went about discussing it with her comrades, she had been rather surprised that both Sheelos and Martuan seemed to have no qualms with it. The fierce woman and leader of the Renegades- the people who had once been her enemy- had even seemed happy to take the opportunity. Sheelos, in her own strange but similar way, had also commented that she had always wanted to see the place.
So here the three of them were, standing just outside of the gates to Iselia village. Well, she was standing there. The other two girls were being surprisingly patient with her. She took a deep breath and took the time to take everything she could see from the outside in. It had been quite some time since she remembered being in the place. Would anyone recognise her? She doubted that. To them, she was just a traveller. She wasn't the Chosen- not to them at least. Perhaps that was why she felt so concerned. Life in the village had been hard for her and Lloyd when they had been the Chosen together. The idea that one day, she might be able to choose to return to the village without anyone calling her Chosen and treating her like an object to save them.. it was frightening.
She longed to see Phaidra. The old woman had been like a grandmother to her and had been there for her when she had been a part of 'Colloyd'. Even if they walked into the village and she saw her though, all she would have been able to do without drawing too much attention to their group would be to give a friendly wave. Thinking about it made her heart sink and the idea of entering the village even less appealing. A good-natured push in the small of her back from Sheelos snapped her out of her depression with a frightful flinch and a surprised yelp. She held her chest as her heart hammered against it while Sheelos took the opportunity to laugh at her. "Well, come on Colette!" the girl who had once also been out for Chosen blood but now had become a good friend to her whined. "Quit staring at it and show us your home town already." She put one hand on her hip and wrapped the other around Martuan's shoulders. "We've already shown you where we live after all!" Martuan glared at Sheelos until she let go and chuckled uncomfortably to herself.
"I'm sorry," Colette muttered in response, eyes falling to the ground. She closed them and tried to come to grips with everything. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. We should-"
"Colette," Martuan called to her his time. She couldn't help but be more attentive to her. She had an air of authority about her in the same way Yuan and Kraine did. "Coming to Iselia was hardly a prime choice considering the predicament your friends are in and our current goals," she continued. "Are you really saying that you don't want to go through with it now we have all wasted our time? We could have easily gone to Triet instead."
Though she spoke roughly to her, Colette saw the softer meaning in Martuan's words and it was all she needed to gain the confidence she needed. She realised she was smiling and saw a similar smile reflect in Martuan's lips. "Good," the older lady concluded, stepping past her and turning to wait for her to take the lead. "I need not remind you that we are in need of supplies then."
Colette shook her head and took a deep breath before moving forward and toward the gates where she could see the guards waiting to give her and her comrades a stamp on the hand which branded them as visitors and not to stay after dark. It also alerted the villagers to never discuss matters involving the Chosen of Sylvarant with them lest they be exiled for conspiring against the church. She offered her hand up for branding while politely greeting the guards. To her surprise, they greeted her with smiles and waved her through without stopping her. She considered that maybe things were different now that the Chosen had left to go on The Journey while she stepped into the village and took a deep breath.
"The air.." she thought wistfully as she took another breath and waited for Martuan and Sheelos to join her. She didn't realise how much she had missed the sweet scent of freshly made bread combined with the soft fragrance of fruits and flowers that only the small village had. Though Iselia had been through a tragedy thanks to the Desians at the Iselia ranch, they seemed to be well on the way to mending things. The occasional slat of wood resting up against a house or a slightly burnt patch of grass here and there seemed to be the only evidence that things had ever gone awry in the first place.
Thinking about how she had once hated coming to the village, she felt tears stinging the corners of her eyes. Though times had been hard, there had been good times as well. Yuan had been there, and then later on Kraine and Gesea. There was still one other person she did not dare to visit. Dirk lived not too far from the village, but even she knew that it was a liberty to visit him at a time like this. Even he would not recognise her. Just thinking about the dwarven man whom had taken her in and treated her (and Lloyd) as his own brought up uncomfortable feelings about her origins.
When she heard her name being called, she trailed out of her thoughts and looked back at Sheelos and Martuan, expecting that she had been in her thoughts for a little too long and chewing up time again. When she almost bumped into them and saw their eyes looking elsewhere though, she faced forward once again to see just who had yelled her name.
A middle aged man with blond hair not unlike her own (except much shorter) called out her name again as he stretched his arms out wide while he ran in her direction. She blinked and in the next second found herself bowled backward into her friends again when he flung his arms around her shoulders. Sheelos and Martuan helped her regain her balance before looking over her with the same question she had. She opened her mouth to say something to the man but stopped when she felt a dampness on her shoulder and noticed he was sobbing. "Colette... my dear, dear Colette..."
Something about his voice felt oddly..familiar. It was a difficult feeling to describe. Eventually when she realised Sheelos was going to say something, she decided to carefully approach it in a more tactful way. "E-excuse me," she asked softly, gently moving him away from her. His eyes searched hers and she saw desperation mixed in with gratitude and relief. They wandered up and down as though he was having trouble believing what he was seeing. She understood how he felt, though her feeling was moreso about having trouble understanding what he was seeing in her. She hadn't been around anyone in Sylvarant since the incident at the tower and before then she had been Colloyd. So how did this nice man know her name that she now felt naturally fit her?
She decided to continue since he wasn't saying anything yet. "How do you know me?" Short and straight to the point. She had a feeling Lloyd would be proud.
The man stood straighter and took a deep breath before smiling so happily that his eyes glittered. "My dear," he chuckled, "don't tell me you've forgotten your father already!"
"My-" Colette blinked rapidly, trying to understand and hoping the next words out of her mouth wouldn't be too blunt. "I'm so sorry. I'm afraid you must be mistaken." She heard the doubt in her own words though. So many questions whirred around in her head suddenly that she started to feel dizzy. She'd never met her real father, after all. A question burned on her tongue furiously but she found herself too afraid to ask.
The man proclaiming to be her father and acting as though it had always been this way tilted his head quizzically at her while she stood frozen in thought before turning toward Sheelos and Martuan. "Forgive my manners. You must be some new escorts of our beloved Chosen. It is not uncommon sadly for tragedy to befall those who follow her path."
Sheelos snorted for a moment but quickly let it pass, probably realising the words that had been spoken just as Martuan did. Colette turned and opened her mouth to say something to the man but she had no words now. She watched as Sheelos frowned in confusion and took the hand that he'd extended out to her. Martuan looked far less accepting of the words that had come out of the nice man's mouth but politely took his hand anyway. Colette noticed the stamp mark on her hand and immediately glanced at Sheelos'. They had both been marked as 'outsiders.' There was only one explanation, and it had practically already been confirmed by the man who had said he was her father.
"Is.. is your name Kratos.. by any chance?" The question that had been lingering in the back of her mind since hearing him announce himself as her father finally escaped her lips. A part of her already knew the answer. It had been why she had been so frightened to ask in the first place.
The man looked confused but lovingly reached forward to brush some hair out of her face before gently taking her arm. "Perhaps you should come home and rest a while. The Journey must have been quite taxing on you so far."
"Um.." Still not knowing what was going on, she found herself being led by him past the general store and the school where both Yuan and Kraine had taught at one time or another, to the house where Phaidra lived. She stopped at the steps and watched as the man moved to open the door for her. With a glance back at Sheelos and Martuan and watching them nod at her to say they would be following right behind, she entered the building and immediately smelled the scent of Phaidra's famous baked apple pie.
She looked to her left at the stairs and watched as the lady she had been most of all hoping to see came down and looked at her with a huge smile on her face. The kind old woman slowly made her way down the stairs, leaning on her gnarled walking stick as she did. It seemed she hadn't yet fully recovered from the attack at the Temple of Martel. Colette frowned in thought as the man ushered her to a chair at the dining table, still seeming ecstatic to see her. Sheelos sat down next to her while Martuan assumed a more guarded stance by standing instead. She couldn't really be blamed. Things didn't exactly seem normal at the moment.
"You've returned to us, dear Colette," Phaidra said, pulling up a chair of her own and lowering herself with a short grunt. "Tell us my dear, how has The Journey been?"
"Phaidra," she started, wondering how to continue. The wrinkles on Phaidra's kind face contorted around her mouth and she let out a low laugh before gazing at the blond man. He shrugged his shoulders and eyed Colette. "A bit of apple pie and some rest and I'm sure she'll remember who her family is!"
"No.. I.." Colette gulped and looked at Phaidra. "I don't understand. What's going on? Please tell me."
"It must be a side-effect to becoming the Chosen," Phaidra said to the man again before scanning over Sheelos and Martuan. "Many Chosen are said to have lost their minds over the course of the Journey of Regeneration. I have never had the chance to see it for myself though." Colette watched her eyes slowly trail back over to her. She was starting to feel quite ill.
"So you all know Colette as the Chosen?" Martuan asked to the 'family' Colette had never known.
"She has been the Chosen since she was born with the Cruxis crystal in her hand," the man explained. "I suppose hired mercenaries such as yourselves might not understand though."
Martuan's eyes narrowed at him and he shrunk back a little. Colette noticed Sheelos hadn't said much. She wondered whether the other Chosen in the room had much idea on what had happened to make these people think they knew her or were her family.
"Colette," Sheelos whispered so quietly that Colette was quite sure that she and Martuan, with their sensitive hearing, were the only intended recipients. "Maybe we should leave here."
She gave a slight nod without taking her smiling face off of Phaidra, now trying to decide how they could leave without seeming too rude or suspicious. Martuan left the corner of her vision. The door behind her creaked open, revealing that she had decided to take charge of the situation. "We have wasted far too much time here Chosen. We must continue on our trek now."
Phaidra and the man looked disappointed when Colette stood from her chair, but they didn't look like they were going to stop them from leaving luckily. Colette bowed her head to them. "Thank you for having us. May the Goddess smile on you Grandmother, Father." The pair smiled happily which in turn made her feel happy too. After a small awkward silence where she waited for them to say something more, she nodded at them politely again and excused herself to follow Martuan from the house while Sheelos brought up the rear.
The moment they were outside, Sheelos held her head for a second before turning to them both to start. "Okay.. so... I think there might be a small problem." She held her gaze at Colette. "I.. I think I'm starting to believe what they're saying." She tapped her head with her fist. "It's weird. Its like my memory of Lloyd and you being one person is starting to disappear."
"What do you mean?" Colette asked, confused. She giggled to herself as she imagined what her friend had just described. She and Lloyd were close, so she supposed it wasn't difficult to imagine them melting into one person one day.. especially if...The heat of blood rushing to her cheeks made her want to hide her face.
"Yes, I'm in agreement with the Chosen. Is there something you're not telling us?" Martuan mimicked with a touch of sarcasm in her voice. Sheelos didn't seem to understand why they were so confused. Colette began to wonder whether she was feeling ill while she watched her friend gaze up at the sky in thought.
"Nah, I'm just kidding with ya!" Sheelos eventually said to end the confusion. Colette received a playful jab in the arm from her and watched as she went to do the same to Martuan but quickly backed away and held her hands up in surrender when she received a glare of warning.
Colette sighed to herself when it went quiet between them all again and looked at her feet. She hadn't slept much the night before because her thoughts had been all over the place. She hadn't had a chance to discuss things properly with Sheelos, but she figured she would be okay with it anyway since the plan had come from Yuan. He had told her that Lloyd and Genis would be alright while Kraine was with them and that the best way to help their cause and the world before Mithos managed to succeed in the next step of his plan was to collect the Summon Spirits. She wanted to believe in both professors, but it still wasn't easy. Lloyd and Genis were her childhood friends after all. During their tough years at Iselia, they had been the only ones to not treat her differently. Actually, it was quite funny. Genis had started off their friendship by calling her the Chosen and acting differently around her until Lloyd had stepped in and made him cry. Since that time, the three of them had become close friends.
She noticed the Tethe'allan Chosen was looking at her with concern and quickly smiled. "I'm sorry Sheelos."
"What are you apologising for this time?" the ninja asked, chuckling and tilting her head. "The only thing we'll both have something to apologise for is if we keep Martuan waiting once she's done at the general store."
"Huh?" Colette turned her head and noticed suddenly that their new companion had wandered off. She quickly turned her eyes on the store in the distance when she saw a brief flash of long blue hair flying in the breeze before the door to it shut with a faint jingle. She glanced back at Sheelos and nodded. "Of course. Let's go."
While following Sheelos, she fell back into her thoughts about Genis and Lloyd. They'd had such wonderful times together. She had been truly blessed during her sixteen years in the world. She paused in thought for a second after that. That didn't seem right. She remembered that their teacher, Kraine, had come to the village... but that had been only a few years ago and yet she remembered Genis from a young age even though her memory also dictated that he and Kraine had come to the village together. A quick memory of a head of pink hair and a girl with a kind but somewhat timid face also entered her thoughts. She bit her lip and tried her best not to show her confusion as to not worry Sheelos unnecessarily.
"Perhaps this really is a side affect at becoming an angel," she thought before considering that it may also be the worlds way of punishing her for not becoming the sacrifice they needed for Sylvarant to flourish. "Either way, I must deal with the consequences as best I can so that no others need to take my place." She looked at Sheelos and thought about what would have happened if she had completed the ritual. Her friend would have surely been sent on the same quest to endure becoming an angel as she had. She couldn't let that happen. She and her friends would save the people of Sylvarant and Tethe'alla.
The suffering would end with her.